Chelsea Walls (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

"Answer me honestly: Have you ever poured yourself a drink and it pours over you like a waterfall of fire?"  

Well sir, that's one of the less pretentious examples of dialogue in this movie. In fact, that line was surprisingly coherent, if pretentious. Most of the dialogue is both pretentious and incoherent, as if written by a college sophomore from Iowa who went to the big city, smoked his first dope, read Howl!, and was inspired. Or maybe it was in a foreign language and I missed the subtitles.

Over the course of many generations, the Chelsea Hotel in downtown Manhattan (23rd street) has been host to many of the most important urban voices of American letters, and even its share of talented foreigners. Tennessee Williams, Bob Dylan, Mark Twain, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Dylan Thomas, Leonard Cohen, Brendan Behan, and Thomas Wolfe are some of the people who lived within its rooms, immersed in the culture of the Village, living in the belief that noble poverty creates high art.

This film romanticizes the present as an extension of the Chelsea's fabled past, and posits that within its crumbling walls resides the hope that America's tomorrow will continue to include art, and not just commerce, as tortured visionaries struggle to create their own works of transcendent art.

Yeah, right.

If anyone knows that guy who runs The Razzies, put him on to this movie, which makes Freddy Got Fingered, in comparison, seem to be Schindler's List. Despite a great cast, this is the first truly unwatchable movie I've seen since Dead Babies.


It is a perfect example of a student project at NYU film school, except that it features known Hollywood stars.

Erin Meister of the Boston Globe summed it up perfectly:

Were Dylan Thomas alive to witness first-time director Ethan Hawke's strained Chelsea Walls, he might have been tempted to change his landmark poem to, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Theatre."

Here's what some of the other critics had to say"

The cinematic equivalent of patronizing a bar favored by pretentious, untalented artistes who enjoy moaning about their cruel fate.

A dreary, incoherent, self-indulgent mess of a movie in which a bunch of pompous windbags drone on inanely for two hours...a cacophony of pretentious, meaningless prattle.

Like the Chelsea's denizens ... Burdette's collage-form scenario tends to over-romanticize the spiritual desolation of the struggling artiste.

Hampered -- no, paralyzed -- by a self-indulgent script ... that aims for poetry and ends up sounding like satire.

Hawke’s film, a boring, pretentious waste of nearly two hours, doesn’t tell you anything except that the Chelsea Hotel today is populated by whiny, pathetic, starving and untalented artistes.

Confirms the nagging suspicion that Ethan Hawke would be even worse behind the camera than he is in front of it.

Calling it pretentious doesn't do justice to the toxic faux-bohemianism and unearned self-regard that bubble and ooze out of every aspect of Chelsea Walls. (That quote links to the review, from Jonathan Foreman of the New York Post, who has the best bullshit detector of any major critic, in my opinion.)


Even the Village Voice, staunch pillar of this whole beatnik world and guardian of its lore, checked in with this:

Hawke commandeers the Chelsea Hotel with a dreary cast of big-dreamin', bed-headed nobodies who look like movie stars (Uma Thurman, Rosario Dawson, Robert Sean Leonard), bad-beat-poetry-ejaculating losers (Mark Webber, various exhibitionist walk-ons), and self-introspective tosspots (Kris Kristofferson, Tuesday Weld), all of whom have coolly squalid second-floor rooms right beside the famous neon sign. Cassavetes may have been the avatar of choice, but Dennis Hopper, in his Last Movie days, is the effective influence. Hawke is adapting Nicole Burdette's play ("It seems impossible!" "What's impossible?" "You!"), and the digital-video results play like a flatulent teenager's first discovery of jazz, cigarettes, and hooch.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen format (1.85:1)

  • director commentary

  • additional scenes

  • cast and crew interviews

Amazingly enough, the DVD contains deleted footage. You might find that instructive, because we don't have deleted footage from Manos, the Hands of Fate or Plan 9 from Outer Space, so it stretches the limits of human imagination to conceive a scene not good enough to be in a movie of this caliber.

Roger Ebert saw the film twice, hated it the first time, then wrote a glowing review after the second viewing. I linked his review below, if you want to read the other side of the story. 

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two and a half stars. Ebert 3/4, 3/5


The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 4.8/10. This is obviously a case of ballot box stuffing. 27 people gave it 10/10. A better indicator is the average score from the Top 1000 most frequent IMDb voters, which would rule out people who just signed up to vote for this movie. They score it 1.5/10. And even that seems implausibly high, since it means some of them didn't give it a 1.
  • with their dollars: made on digital video for $100,000, and looking it, it couldn't even recoup its modest costs. Total gross - $59,000 over 9 weeks.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is an F. Possibly the worst film ever made without Jeff Fahey.

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